The area’s three governing bodies — the Payson and Star Valley town councils and the Tonto Apache Tribal Council — sat down for the first-ever joint meeting Oct. 5.

Each council discussed current priorities and provided a general update on ongoing or planned initiatives.

Held in one of the Payson library’s new meeting rooms and closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting included almost the entire councils of both Payson and Star Valley and two representatives of the Tribal Council, Chair Calvin Johnson and Vice Chair Charlie Lopez. Absent from the Payson council were Jim Ferris and Chris Higgins; George Binney was the only Star Valley councilor not in attendance.

Speaking for Payson, Town Manager Troy Smith said the council has documents that guide establishing priorities: the general plan, which is renewed every 10 years — the town is working from the 2014 version; and a three-year corporate strategic plan. Added to these this year was the most recent Capital Improvement Survey.

He said the survey provided an opportunity for residents to tell the council what improvements they wanted addressed. This was the second consecutive year of the survey. Both the 2021 and 2020 surveys showed the same top three priorities: a community center, more and better parks, and street improvements.

Regarding the community center and parks, Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey said the council is waiting to see what happens with the MHA Foundation’s Granite Dells park project.

A priority for the Tonto Apache Tribal Council is addressing the water agreement with Payson, something that has been a battle in the past, said Lopez.

Johnson said they cannot discuss many of their projects due to non-disclosure agreements. However, Johnson and Lopez shared some developments for the reservation. A health clinic was recently opened for members of the tribe and it is now also open to the public. There are plans to build a permanent facility for the clinic that includes a mini-hospital. Additionally, an RV park is being developed. It will initially have 50 spaces, with plans to expand it to 100.

The Tribal Council is also working on housing for its members. The infrastructure is almost all in for 45 lots, except for electricity; the council is waiting on APS before moving forward. There are also plans to add more housing.

And a lot is in the works. The council has commissioned a study on expanding its market; they are looking at starting a school for tribal youth; and it may reform its constitution.

They told the group they are working from a “cookie cutter” constitution that most tribes work from, so it does not address the Tonto Apache’s specific needs.

Both Johnson and Lopez said the goal is to make the Tonto Apache Tribe self-sufficient, separate from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Payson councilors Barbara Underwood and Suzy Tubbs-Avakian both asked about the tribe helping the town to get the event center covered. Johnson said that had been discussed in the past, but it went nowhere. With so many other projects underway, that is not likely to be something that will be considered in the immediate future.

The tribal council representatives were also asked about making the recreation center’s pool available for swimming lessons. That was met with a more positive response, but it would need a discussion with the center’s staff first.

Star Valley’s Assistant Town Manager Chancy Nutt talked about the joint efforts the town, incorporated in 2005, has enjoyed over the years in partnering with the Town of Payson and the Tonto Apache Tribe. It has intergovernmental agreements with Payson for emergency response services and building department services (plan reviews, building inspections, etc.). Star Valley also contracts with Payson for law enforcement and animal control services and for back-up water.

Star Valley has benefited from the generosity of the Tonto Apache Tribe, and other Native American groups in Arizona, to make improvements to its community park and other amenities for its citizens and visitors.

The Tonto Apaches’ contributions to the Hellsgate Fire District have also benefited the residents of Star Valley.

Both Payson and Star Valley councils agreed a joint meeting was something that should take place regularly and tentatively planned to meet quarterly. Since it was a work study session, they took no formal action and they could not make a firm decision on regular meetings.

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